Thursday, January 27, 2005
Stubborn Serena makes it into final
By Pam Shriver Special to ESPN.com
MELBOURNE, Australia -- It's been an amazing two days of women's tennis. All the drama with three-set matches. People fighting off match points. People fighting off bad colds. People fighting off the heat.
You almost need a pause to take in the last 30 hours, which although it wasn't always great tennis provided a lot of twists and turns.
When you think about Serena Williams' performance in the semifinals the movie "True Grit" comes to mind. She was just so stubborn in her match. She wasn't playing her best and was battling Maria Sharapova, who last year bruised her in two big finals. And for a set and half, Serena looked bruised again -- until Sharapova served for it. Sharapova got tight. Serena got brave.
Some of Sharapova's mystique might be gone after she served for the match in the second and third sets and then had three match points.
Her grunting was out of control. The scream was still going on when Serena hit the ball. Sharapova makes Monica Seles seem tame. It was strange how when she stopped grunting, her energy level dropped.
Serena commented to me afterward about how the crowd was cheering for her. It shows you how quickly things can turn for the perceived underdog. She was really gracious talking about how she hoped fellow American Lindsay Davenport would join her in the final (ESPN2, 9:30 p.m. ET, Fri.).
That she did, but watching it hurt like a toothache. Instead of Davenport rallying to win this one, it was more like Nathalie Dechy couldn't swing her arm, even though she was two points from the end.
As for Davenport, it's commendable what she's doing in the doubles but what if she looks back at this opportunity to win the title and she didn't because she's too tired. She's playing with her best friend, Corina Morariu, a cancer survivor, in the doubles final the day before her singles final. This is where the singles player really has a conflict with playing doubles. Somehow after playing about eight hours of tennis in the last 30 hours she's got to try to recover in time for the singles final.
Serena goes into the final as the heavy favorite. She's been the betting favorite the whole time. It looks like the punters, as bettors are called here, knew what they were talking about.
It's only the fourth all-American final going back to 1985 (Williams sisters 2003, Monica Seles vs. Mary Joe Fernandez 1992, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova in '85).
It just doesn't happen that often here. So, obviously, it's great to have two Americans and not have it be an all-family final, which was always awkward for both players.
If Davenport can muster up the strength, it will be like a dream. She hasn't won a major in five years despite a lot of close calls. She's had a lot of semifinal heartbreaks.
A victory would be nowhere near as dramatic as Jennifer Capriati's comeback. People would feel really good for Davenport because most understand that Serena will have more chances to win major titles and Davenport at best only has a couple more of these.
Either way, hope that both players are full tilt.
ESPN tennis analyst Pam Shriver won 21 singles and 112 doubles crowns, including 22 Grand Slam titles.